What If…

April 27, 2009

Lenore Skenazy has a great post on the Post’s parenting blog today about the power of the words, “what if.”  She describes an interaction with a police officer who tried to convince her that she had put her son in danger by letting him ride the subway alone.  The cop’s tactic?  To use a whole barrage of “what ifs”- What if he had been kidnapped? What if he had been kidnapped by two huge men and no one could save him? etc., etc.  She argues that the real danger of “what ifs” is that if we listen to them too much, we become terrified and then don’t let our kids be kids.

“What ifs” are something I have come across not only in terms of parenting but also with my belief in nonviolence.  In the case of my pacifism, people often think that the most convincing way to persuade me that I am wrong is to give me an impossible scenario in the form of a “what if”:  what if you and your child were in a dark alley, gagged so you couldn’t scream, being held at knife point, with no one around for miles, would you use violence to protect your child?  What I try to explain is that nonviolence is about doing all that you can to avoid the need for violence and that an impossible scenario isn’t the point, the point is how I live my life and what I strive towards.

And I think the same is true for post-modern parenting.  We should be doing all that we can to create the space for our children to explore and be independent, to reduce the “need” for hovering.  There is a lot we can do so that our kids are safe but are able to enjoy more independence- teaching them things they can do if they don’t feel safe, being clear about expectations and street smarts, making sure the breakables and choke-ables are out of reach, etc., etc.- by taking such steps we are then taking away many of the occasions for harm and opening new and exciting worlds to them.

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